Cerebus Cover Art Treasury
Released by: IDW Publishing / Aardvark-Vanaheim
Released on: October 19th, 2016.
Written by: Dave Sim
Illustrated by: Dave Sim and Gerard
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One of the most influential independent comic books of its day, Cerebus The Aardvark, by Dave Sim and Gerard, ran from December 1977 until March 2004 for three hundred issues spanning six thousand pages. It is, in retrospect, an absolutely massive project and a fascinating look at how comics evolve. The story started as a parody of Barry Windsor-Smith’s classic run on Conan The Barbarian for Marvel Comics but soon turned into something more, taking on politics, religion and all manner of social issues. The single issue format was soon passed over in favor of massive storylines (starting with the classic High Society run) and all of it done under Sim’s own Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc. brand. Not only was the series a massive artistic achievement but it also played a huge part in the creator’s rights movement that would eventually lead to publisher’s like Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics, among quite a few others, becoming increasingly big players in the comic book industry.
This three hundred and fifty four page book, as you could probably have guessed, reproduces each and every cover art image from all three hundred issues of the series. It’s fascinating to look through it, to see how that simple image from the first issue, clearly poking fun at Conan, changed over time. The second issue was swiped from a Jim Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. cover, the third another Windsor-Smith swipe and the fourth clearly influenced by a John Buscema Sub-Mariner cover. Frank Thorne pitched in for issue seven, and issue twenty-two borrowed heavily from a Marshall Rogers Detective Comics cover piece. Soon enough he switches over to water-colored cover pieces, which obviously have a very different look than the penciled and inked earlier covers.
As the series evolves and becomes more serious, so too does the cover art. The parodies of superhero and sword and sorcery books become replaced by more elaborate and dramatic pages, sometimes laying the art out sideways on the cover – something that was pretty unusual to see during this era of comic book history. The artwork becomes much more polished, occasionally the series uses black and white covers in place of the traditional color pieces, and the political leanings of the storylines start working their way to the front as it inevitably became a selling point for the series. Sim also experiments with using photographs on the cover in place of illustrations a few times (and for almost the entire Going Home run later in the series), and really just doing a lot of interesting, creative and unique things with character design and layout. If you hung out in comic books stores, especially during the eighties, Cerebus always stood out. Even if you didn’t read it, you saw a lot of these covers and odds are pretty good they’ve stuck with you. The fact that they are so very different from the vast majority of what was coming out from other publishers at the time is a huge part of why they resonate with some of us the way they do.
Also included in the book are some sketchbook pages, scanned from an old notebook that show off some of Sim’s notes regarding the series when it was still going as well as some of the conceptual art that was created for some of these pieces.
Throughout the gallery there are notes from Sim – a good example being how he points out how to tell if a copy of the first issue is a counterfeit or not. He talks about some of the coloring in the early days, done with acetate overlays, where some of the influences for the covers came from, the political toxicity of handing out free matchbooks in comic stores, the difficulties of using water colors and how and why he tried to parody Wolverine and The Dark Knight during the grim and gritty superhero boom of the eighties. Gerard chimes in with some thoughts on various pieces as well, pointing out some interesting bits and pieces like how the covers for #153 and #154 share the same backgrounds, how he tried to bring a sense of scale to certain pieces and how his own face appears on issue #165. They also point out where a lot of the photos used for the Going Home run came from, where they were taken and why they were used. It’s also interesting to note how the covers from issues #291 - #297, when laid out side by side, form a ‘pan’ around the room.
In addition to reprinting all of the amazing cover pieces from the entire series, the book also includes an introduction from TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman who talks about how he discovered Cerebus completely by chance at a Boston comic shop in 1981, his love of underground comics, and how the work that Sim and Gerard did in the series had a huge influence on him and his work.
Dave Sim also contributes a text piece here, where he writes about why a lot of the covers reproduced in this book are not taken from the original artwork as much of it was sold off or given away over the book’s run of more than three decades (he also notes that quite a few were stolen). He then goes on to talk about the difficulty of getting some private collector’s to share the art they’ve come into possession off, how and why so many covers were, yes, stolen as well as his thoughts on cataloging your own art, why CGC graded editions of the ‘Dave Sim file copies’ were used throughout the book and more.
Obviously Cerebus fans will get more out of this than anyone else, but even if you’re not familiar with the series it’s impossible not to get swept up in some of the images that Sim and Gerard have put together here. All in all, a pretty fantastic book for anyone with even a slight interest in sequential art or comic book history.